Acts of Vandalism and the Return of “Paz y Justicia” to Tila are exposed

Campesino from Tila carries his harvest of corn. Photo: Moysés Zúniga Santiago

Chiapas. Subjected to a strange media hostility, the ejido of Tila in the northern región of Chiapas revealed in a document the acts that have altered the fragile stability of its urban shell and mark the return of the group “Peace and Justice” (who never really left), denounced the “acts of vandalism of the inhabitants and their dissatisfied neighbors, though not all of them,” this Tuesday the 25th. “Between six and seven in the morning they began to knock down the security gates that the general assembly of members of the ejido agreed to build for the safety of the population and as a sanitary filter against Covid-19.”

The ejidal representation claims to be complying with the agrarian legislation in force, and indicates that those responsible are former municipal president Arturo Sánchez Sánchez and his son Francisco Arturo Sánchez Martínez, “intellectual paramilitary leaders in northern Chiapas,” linked to “the massacre in the lower zone between 1997 and 1998.” They are the brother and nephew, respectively, of Samuel Sánchez Sánchez, currently imprisoned at El Amate. “Francisco Arturo is promoting himself as a candidate for municipal president in order to ‘rescue’ the municipality of Tila.

The struggle, which is not new, between two groups of residents of the municipal capital, is intertwined with conflicting political positions that date back to Ernesto Zedillo’s counterinsurgency war in the Chol region, when the federal army and the PRI paramilitary group, “Development, Peace and Justice,” spawned armed violence against the resistance, and against the autonomies of the Zapatista communities and their allies that caused hundreds of deaths, displaced families, rapes and disappearances that remain unresolved today.

In recent years the original ejidatarios of Tila recovered their territorial rights through legal channels, which had been eroded and even alienated by the “avecindados”, i.e. inhabitants who are not from the ejido or and do not belong to the ejidal assembly, but who, given the urban condition of the ejido, have installed themselves over time, coming to control the municipal government and an important part of the center of Tila, a population with a lot of commerce.

The ejido also houses a tourist-religious attraction with the cult of the Lord of Tila, which reaches as far as Central America and of which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, originally from Macuspana, Tabasco, declared himself a devotee a few years ago. But the installations of the cult also belong to the ejido, which in the past caused friction with the Catholic parish.

At the end of the last century, Peace and Justice lorded over the whole northern zone and with the help of the government controlled the municipalities of Tumbalá, Sabanilla, Salto de Agua and Tila. When the principal leaders fell into disgrace and went to prison for various crimes (except for the murders that they committed directly or indirectly) the region was pacified to a certain extent. It was then that the legally recovered its ejidal rights and established a kind of autonomy inspired by the Zapatistas.

The accusations against Arturo Sánchez Sánchez go back to an old conflict when Peace and Justice didn’t yet exist but its future founders were already criminals. “The 10th of May of 1981, he killed one of his comrades [Juan Perez, known as Juan Ronco] for the same problem of the supposed [official] municipality without the legal possession, because the hamlet of the village sits on ejidal lands, birthright of the 836 trained ejidatarios.

On several occasions they have denounced aggressions, such as in 2005 “for political reasons and the jailing of several ejidatarios that were pointed out by hooded people who ran the State police.” They also denounced the “hiring of hooded gunmen in 2015,” and the naming of a commissioner by the municipal council by inhabitants and settlers “by falsifying the signatures and fingerprints of the ejidatarios who are entitled to the National Agrarian Registry, some of them deceased. The dead raised are Miguel Vázquez Gutiérrez, Lucian Pérez López and the members of the supposed legal commission, and today they  commit a violation of the maximum authority,” since they participate in the groups that destroyed the gate.” They did it “without any fear because within the population they encounter vandals and ex-prisoners, and if the people arrive to defend the gate, they come out with high-caliber weapons that were introduced over time.”

They clarify: “our struggle is in defense of land and territory, not to seek conflict with the paramilitaries of Peace and Justice.”

In addition to versions that the aggressors have recruited people from other towns and municipalities, the ejidal authority of Tila reveals that they are relying on “young gang members and drug addicts who were previously hired,” that which was reported on social networks. These are “young people who are not aware of the legalization of the ejido, but only comply with the economic contract.

They warn that “there are many threats of kidnapping by these troublemakers armed with high-caliber weapons,” and they ask “the various non-governmental human rights centers” to turn their attention to the ejido. “We hold those already mentioned responsible for what may happen at this time.”

Civilian organizations in the Tseltal-Col region have documented that those who “do damage” against the ejido are advised and financed by the current municipal president Limbert Gutiérrez Gómez of the Green Ecological Party of Mexico, and the regional delegate of the organization Development Peace and Justice, and official, Oscar Sánchez Alpuche.

This article was originally published in Spanish in La Jornada on the 26th of August. This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

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